The Nashville Health Care Council hosted a listening session with U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) for more than 150 Council members who tuned in via Zoom videoconferencing. Alexander provided a summary of where Tennessee and the country are with federal policy related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chairman of the U.S. Senate Health Committee, Senator Alexander, began with federal efforts to support business, noting that nearly 100,000 Tennessee-based small businesses will receive a loan from the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program. In health care, he noted that $175 billion dollars will be handed to hospitals, doctors, and labs, about $75 billion of which has already been delivered.
Alexander underscored that measures to support businesses are important but are not the solution to overcoming the pandemic, “What will solve the problem are tests, treatments, and vaccines.”
Providing an overview of these three areas, he noted promising developments have been made including announcement of a treatment recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, with more treatments expected to become approved in summer this year.
On vaccines, he shared that the administration is urging for vaccine production with a goal to have 100 million doses of a vaccine available as soon as September 2020. While Alexander noted the goal is enormously ambitious, he is encouraged with its intent, “I’m glad we have that goal because until we have a vaccine, we won’t be able to go back to work or back to school with confidence.”
On testing Alexander defined the difference between diagnostic versus antibody testing and explained the state of both forms of testing today. Positive points, “We’ll have no problem in the private sector producing serology tests which assess if a person currently has had COVID-19 in the past and has antibodies that provide immunity, at least for a period of time,” he said. “The Food and Drug administration will make an announcement about which antibody tests are accurate enough to remain on the market.”
Challenges, though, remain with the availability of diagnostic testing (testing that assesses if a person currently has COVID-19). “In Tennessee we probably have enough tests to deal with everyone who shows COVID-19 symptoms, test nursing homes and test prisons. But, we don’t have enough to test in a manner that contains the disease, which provides the confidence we need to go back to work and school,” said Alexander.
An effort Alexander is most impressed by is one to develop early stage concepts for new diagnostic tests that can be produced in the tens-of-millions. Called the ‘Shark Tank’ effort, named after the popular television show, “It puts $1.5 billion under the direction of the National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins. And, more than 400 hands went up within the first 24 hours of a call for ideas,” Alexander said. In closing, he felt the likelihood of a solution to diagnostic testing is promising.
For more on Senator Lamar Alexanders remarks or to watch an event recap video click here.